It was more than fifteen years ago that I planned my first incentive program to Maui. I had no expectations of falling in love with the island. I was headed there for work, not for vacation. However, I remember the first morning, waking up before sunrise and taking a walk along the Pacific Ocean. It was then that I understood why the ancient Hawaiian culture believed in Gods and Goddesses of the earth and sky. Nature reigned supreme as fragrant plumeria filled the air, turquoise waves crashed in rhythm, the sun rose over Mount Haleakala, the island’s dormant volcano, and bird song welcomed a new day. I was enchanted.
Fast forward to today: Maui continues to be ranked among the best islands in the world for incentive and leisure travel; its natural beauty drawing millions of visitors per year. Castle has opened an office on Maui given its status as a world-class incentive destination and I am fortunate enough to call Maui my new home.
Why is Maui the best for incentive travel?
All of the Hawaiian Islands are completely distinct and beautiful in their own right. The island of Hawaii, known as the Big Island, is famous for its active volcano and black sand beaches. Kauai, the smallest of the island chain, offers lush greenery and waterfalls, the Napali coast and Waimea Canyon. Oahu is known for Waikiki beach, a vibrant shopping and dining scene, Pearl Harbor and its North Shore surf culture. But there is a common expression amongst those that live on the Valley Isle – Maui nō ka ʻoi, which means, Maui is the best. It is not meant to be boastful as much as to imply gratitude for all of her offerings. Neither too big or too small, the island provides a perfect blend of scenery, culture, beaches and small towns along with many microclimates to explore.
Recently, Castle’s events team completed two back-to-back incentive programs on Maui. The programs were of different size and demographic but Maui was a perfect fit for each. In fact, the island’s infrastructure can handle groups from the most intimate in size to the very large; easily accommodating programs in the thousands. There is a wide selection of five-star luxury resorts as well as mid-tier options depending on budget and group preference. Several transportation companies and destination management partners operate on Maui along with creative services companies such as lighting, production, floral and décor. Compared to many other tropical destinations, service standards are high and the island, especially the South shore, boasts perfect weather for year-round outdoor events and activities. (Although contingency plans are still a must as tropical rains can force outdoor events inside, as we just experienced with two of our Welcome Receptions this month. Again, mother nature is boss!)
Maui leads the way in many of today’s incentive industry trends without even trying. The “go local” movement comes naturally to an island with an abundance of farms and artisans. Fresh coffee, fruit, flowers, produce, beef, fish, honey, beer and local spirits (i.e. Maui Brewing Company, Pau and Ocean Vodka) all find their place on menus and/or create unique room gifts. On site gifting/fitting stations are extremely popular in the incentive world and local products such as Maui Jim sunglasses and OluKai sandals are a big hit with groups. As attendees seek healthier choices, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options are easy to come by in the Aloha State. Both the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, where Castle hosted its programs last month, are passionate about their culinary programs. The Four Seasons offers a custom-tailored wellness menu created by the on-staff clinical nutritionist and executive chef. The stylish Andaz Resort serves hand-crafted cocktails infused with island ingredients and teams up with local farmers, foragers and fishmongers to create fresh and inventive menus.
Sophisticated incentive travelers are also seeking unforgettable, unique experiences and Maui knows how to deliver. How about an aerial tour of the famed road to Hana via helicopter with a private picnic at a scenic vista, an exclusive dinner and sunset viewing party at an estate overlooking the ocean, or a Hawaiian outrigger canoe excursion with a certified marine naturalist? One of our groups had the opportunity to take surfing lessons with a pro surfer, followed by lunch in town and free time to explore.
On Maui, there is an activity for every thrill level. For those seeking adventure, there is waterfall rappelling, hiking, ziplining and ATV excursions. Or for those more interested in culture and scenery, there are upcountry farm tours, walking tours of historic Lahaina town, ukulele or hula lessons, to name a few. There are also outstanding golf options and ocean activities such as snorkeling, fishing and kayaking.
Some incentive programs provide the option to bring children and Maui is a destination for all ages. Aside from the beaches and kid-friendly resort pools, many properties offer kid’s clubs with daily activities. With more than 80 children on one of the programs we planned, Castle helped to create a “keiki (kid’s) corner” at a final night awards dinner. The area featured a separate kid’s buffet, arts and crafts, a lei and shell necklace making station, fun Hawaiian tattoos, coloring books and lawn games. Children enjoyed sitting on pillows and traditional lauhala woven mats and parents were thrilled that there was a place dedicated just to them.
Hawaii is one of the most isolated land masses on earth so yes, the trip here is long. However, this also adds to the allure. Once you get here, you really feel transported away from it all. And although the travel may be lengthy, the ease of being a U.S. destination is appealing to many. No passports are required for entry, there is no currency exchange, no language barrier, and domestic cell phone rates are in affect. Note: there are direct flight options from many West Coast destinations as well as Dallas and Phoenix.
It is also true that planning takes a little more patience, items are not as readily available and/or shipping costs can be high but an Amazon prime account can be a planner’s best friend in Hawaii. Items may not ship in two days but the shipping is still free.
Perhaps most importantly, on Maui and the rest of Hawaii, there is a spirit of Aloha. The term Aloha is commonly used as a greeting of hello and goodbye. But it is also an attitude and way of life. It means sending and receiving positive energy and imparting respect and compassion to those around you, including Mother Earth. The spirit of aloha is something that you experience as a visitor and hopefully, will remain with you to share long after you depart the island.